Autumnwatch & Springwatch

On Autumnwatch, we’re well aware that the issues surrounding the on-going badger cull have remained in the news and continue to be an emotive subject for many of you.

As usual, we are asking you to use the comments section below to have your say on the subject. We ask that you respect the views of others, even if they differ from your own. In the past we’ve found that people from both sides of the issue have brought interesting and useful extra insights and information to our blog, and we encourage this kind of contribution to a respectful discussion.

Some of you have asked why Autumnwatch and Springwatch hasn’t covered more of the badger cull story and asked why we haven’t taken a position on one particular side of the debate. As a BBC programme, Autumnwatch has to remain impartial, however much the subject impacts on audience feeling. To state a position on any political situation would compromise our ability to bring you high quality information that everyone can trust. This is vital for all BBC programmes, ourselves included.

It’s also worth clarifying that Autumnwatch is a nature series designed to give our audience insights into the science and biology of UK wildlife. It’s not a platform for political or topical debate regarding public policy, which is covered elsewhere on the BBC, particularly on BBC News output. The decision to licence a badger cull and the interpretation of the scientific results behind this decision are now matters of politics and policy and therefore out of scope for this series. We have, and will continue to, report on the science and biology.

With this remit in mind, we have set out below a series of links to short films, guest blogs, BBC news articles and official government documents that describe the scientific and biological background to the story. We’re also pointing you to the output of other BBC colleagues for further information on the issue and the latest news and debate on the politics and policy aspects of the story. We have set out to give you the impartial information that allows you to be fully informed and help you make up your own mind as to where you stand on the issue.

Autumnwatch 2013 has filed a new report where Martin Hughes-Games takes things back to the basics, looking at what it is in the very nature and ecology of badgers that has got them into trouble in their relationship with us humans – more than once - over the years, from badger-baiting to bovine tuberculosis. You can watch that here.

Back in 2010, We covered the original scientific research into how a cull might work. This was known as the Krebs Randomised Badger Culling Trial. Kate Humble talked to Dr Rosie Woodroffe, one of the scientists who undertook this work from 1998-2005, and looked at the results in some detail. You can see this film here.

Since then, there has been a robust debate around the interpretation of the science behind the badger cull. To bring both sides of the issue right up to date, we have commissioned two new guest blogs to provide expert views of the scientific results that influence both government policy and the views of those opposing the cull. Two eminent scientists, Dr Rosie Woodroffe and Prof James Wood both work extensively in this area, and have contributed significantly to relevant scientific research. They recently co-authored a Royal Society review of scientific evidence surrounding badger cull trials. Read the blogs from Dr Woodroffe and Prof Wood below.

Many people from both sides of the debate have suggested that vaccination – of either cattle or badgers – may provide solutions in the future. In 2011, we looked at how badger vaccination might work – Martin Hughes-Games investigated. You can see this film here. More recently, our colleagues at BBC Countryfile have covered the cattle vaccination story – you can see this film here.

For the official government position at the start of this process, we are linking to [hyperlink] the government’s approach to tackling bovine tuberculosis and the consultation on a badger control policy as well as DEFRA’s information about bovine tuberculosis - .

For even more background to the science and the cull, please click here for a BBC News Q&A on the badger cull.

As the cull began, the story turned to aspects of politics and policy. These have been covered extensively by our colleagues in BBC News Online. To give you easy access to these - from a special search page which constantly updates itself to give you the very latest stories - please click here.

In addition, the BBC’s Inside Out West programme has covered the recent issues around the implementation of the cull, including a perspective on what it has been like to police the situation. You can see this film here.

Finally, bringing things right up to date, with the announcement last week that Natural England has granted a licence extension for the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire, BBC Points West News covered the story here.

In this blog post, we have set out to present all of the films, blogs, news articles and official documents linked to above to provide the all broad, balanced and impartial information and insight you need to reach your own, informed decision on where you stand on this ongoing, complicated and emotive issue.

If you feel you have more to add, do please have your say in the comments section below. Once again, may we remind you to please be respectful of the opinions of others.

Many thanks,

Tim Scoones, Executive Producer, BBC Natural History Unit

.........

Dr Rosie Woodroffe is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, London

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem for cattle farmers, which deserves an effective solution. There is strong evidence to show that badgers transmit infection to cattle. Paradoxically, though, culling badgers contributes little or nothing to TB control.

Left undisturbed, family groups of badgers remain within their own fiercely guarded territories, prevented from wandering far by their equally territorial neighbours. Infected badgers interact mostly within their own groups, and so disease does not spread far. Culling, however, removes these natural constraints on transmission. This means that the proportion of infected badgers increases, and disease spreads across the landscape.

Even where culling reduces badger numbers substantially, declines in cattle TB are much smaller. This is because each remaining badger ranges more widely, so can interact with more cattle herds and is also more likely to be infected. As a result, where culls kill fewer badgers, cattle TB is increased.

As farmers in Somerset and Gloucestershire have been learning, culling large numbers of badgers is a challenge, but the stakes are high because culling too few will worsen the problem. So, culling is a risky proposition.

By contrast, vaccination is likely to drive infection in badger populations down, not up. Vaccination is also cheaper. The benefits for cattle are not yet known, but the only way to find out is to try.

Professor James Wood is Alborada Professor of Equine and Farm Animal Science, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge

Much has been stated in the polarised debate over killing badgers to control bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. Both sides of the debate claim to have the support of science.

Scientists should produce and interpret scientific data. An individual can make moral judgements, but this needs to be done explicitly, distinguishing such views from scientific interpretation. Thus, it can be valid to believe that culling badgers is effective in controlling bovine TB, but that this fact does not provide a moral justification for doing so.

In high-incidence areas in Britain, bovine TB spreads in cycles between cattle and badgers. A recent review of the scientific evidence relevant to bovine TB control demonstrates the importance of the pattern of disease transmission, illustrated by a reduction of around 60% in incidents of bovine TB on farms involved in the random badger culling trials, 18 months after culling ended. No other control of the disease in cattle has been shown to have anything like such strong an effect. There is no study that has shown specific on-farm biosecurity measures reduce bovine TB. Although there are measures that can help to exclude badgers from farm buildings, it is unclear whether most transmission is inside or at pasture.

Controls that include badger culling have a scientific evidence base, and l describing the impact of culling as just 16% for bovine TB in cattle understates its importance. Many farmers are now being caught in the middle of the badger cull controversy with little evidence to guide their husbandry, despite what is widely claimed. This means they have no real ability to influence the risks to their herds from wildlife. More stringent cattle measures, such as radial testing around infected herds in the ‘edge area’, are already being implemented, but to date the media have not reported on these. Their impact may also take some years to become apparent.

Comments

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  • Comment number 144. Posted by theSteB

    on 10 Nov 2013 12:59

    Why have you removed the previous Springwatch Blog on Badger culling, and everyone's comments on it, without announcing this? This is blatant political censorship and blatant suppression of free speech. You are essentially acting like a puppert of the Countryside Alliance and are telling us that it is no longer acceptable to condemn the unnecessary and anti-scientific slaughter of our wilifelife.

    Don't worry you won't get away with this hidden censorship without publicity. This is because I made detailed comments elsewhere in which I liniked directly to this blog entry. Therefore you might thiink you are being very clever doing this, but it will bounce back very badly on you. I am going to tell everyone in the wider media what you did. So don't think you'll get away with this one in secret.

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  • Comment number 143. Posted by theSteB

    on 10 Nov 2013 12:49

    I have just read that Chris Packham has been censured for his comments on Twitter condemning the cull after complaints by the Countryside Alliance. I regard this sinister and Orwellian. It should be noted that I am very well read on George Orwell. I know he worked for the BBC in the war in censorship, I know he deeply regretted it, and the oppressive state featured in 1984 was modelled on his work in the BBC.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10436603/Chris-Packham-rapped-by-BBC-for-intemperate-Twitter-remarks-about-badger-cull.html

    I have been a long time BBC supporter. However, in this case the BBC is not acting in a moral way at all. I accept the BBC feels under pressure from this government and its supporters. However, caving into the pressures of the Countryside Alliance is incredible.

    Also why have you removed the Blog entry on Badgers from the Springwatch Blog, it was still there unitll just a few weeks ago. This is blantant political censorship re-writing history like this and it is truly Orwellian.

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  • Comment number 142. Posted by Leo

    on 6 Nov 2013 16:07

    Last night Tues 5th Nov, I found a Red Admiral butterfly fluttering about in my kitche Eventually it settled on a bottle and has stayed there since. I had intended to release it today but as it has not moved I am wondering if it has stated to hibernate. Should I leave it where it is?

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  • Comment number 141. Posted by Farmern

    on 5 Nov 2013 15:21

    139.Silverbirch
    Where can I find this revision ? Quick Google search did not bring it up for me,

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  • Comment number 140. Posted by naomi tunstall

    on 5 Nov 2013 14:54

    Hey,as part of my college work i have to get behind a campaign for something that i am passionate about,which is the recent problem of the badger cull,i think a vaccination would be the best idea

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  • Comment number 139. Posted by silverbirch

    on 5 Nov 2013 12:40

    I understand the figure for TB reduction through culling has since been revised and it's now 5.7%??

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  • Comment number 138. Posted by adrian52

    on 4 Nov 2013 09:35

    Patronising those who disagree with you doesn't make your argument any more convincing. Very clearly the huge weight of evidence and scientific opinion is that butchering wildlife will make no real impact on bTB in cattle, other than to potentially make it worse. The only 'scientists' who take a different view are those employed by the government and the NFU, who should be viewed in the same light as the scientists employed for so long by the tobacco industry who said there was no link between smoking and lung cancer. They will say what they are paid to say.
    The slaughter is being conducted in spite of the evidence and in the face of overwhelming public opposition. By a coalition of the owners of shooting estates who are simply looking to maximise profit, some rather desperate farmers who will do anything to try to control the disease ( even alienate their customer base) and a bunch of posh boys in government who kill things for fun

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  • Comment number 137. Posted by Wiltshire Vet

    on 3 Nov 2013 20:18

    In reply to Isabel (29 Oct) and others - of course everyone would love to see a cattle vaccine.
    Yes, the technology is available for a BCG based vaccine for cattle. However, at best, this is likely to confer only about 60% immunity, so there would have to be a test to see which animals were successfully vaccinated, and which ones were infected despite the vaccine. The test we currently use in cattle could not differentiate between vaccinated and diseased cattle. So, not only do we need to develop a vaccine, with a better protection rate than 60%, but we also need to develop a "DIVA" (differentiating infected from vaccinated animals) test. Then the legal argument with Europe can begin.......
    Till then, sad as it may be, we have to do our best to stop this awful disease decimating our cattle herds - and that must include controlling (but, please note, NOT eradicating) the population of badgers.
    Vaccination of badgers is not yet fully practical, as only an injectable vaccine is available - so you have to individually catch badgers! An oral vaccine is currently being developed, but even then, vaccinating already infected badgers does nothing to stop them spreading the disease. It will take many years before all the old infected badgers die leaving (hopefully) the younger generation with a level of protection (but as with any vaccine, the protection will not be 100%)
    I hope this helps to clarify the situation for you?

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  • Comment number 136. Posted by Farmern

    on 3 Nov 2013 05:40

    In the 1920s bTB infection levels in cows were around 40% , now they are below 1% over most of the country. Perhaps a bit higher in areas where the cull are taking place.

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  • Comment number 135. Posted by Aonach

    on 3 Nov 2013 00:59

    Badgers have been around these isles for around 3/4 to 1/2 million years, the bTB problem has been increasing since the 1960's, so for around 60 years, quite a difference ! Since the 60's cattle farming has changed from relatively small well managed herds of stronger bloodlines to huge herds of cattle selectively bred for meat/milk production. Such animals lacking natural robustness moved around the country, kept in appalling conditions dictated by profit led husbandry don't stand much of a chance. Many more are slaughtered because of lameness, mastitis or infertility than of bTB. The cause of this whole mess lies with those involved in this so called 'farming' their regulators and this government not the badger and at the moment they are just digging the hole deeper with a bodged cull........can it get any worse ?

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